Nature 2003 April

Spring Into Action

The month of February ended as it started with significant rainfall. Over the month as a whole around 1 inch or 25mm fell, well below the UK average for February of 38mm. The middle of the month provided a cold snap of sorts with some bitter north-westerlies and accompanying wind-chill. The 18th was the coldest day, which at 7am was -7.7°C, and the warmest day with 14.9°C at lunchtime was the 27th. So far, March has begun to tempt us with warm weather which no doubt warns us that it will go out like a lion. Interesting to see if we have a gale blowing as the intrepid distributors of this newsletter are on their rounds!

Last month I mentioned how plants and animals can act as indicators of climate change. The bumble bees started making appearances earlier this year: 2nd March (15th March 2002). Hawthorn and other early trees look like being about a week behind the records for last year. By the time you read this there is a possibility that frog and toad spawn will have arrived in the local ponds and newts should be making an appearance. Now here’s the clever bit, which you might want to involve the younger members of the family in. If your frogspawn is in the middle of the pond, there will be a drought, if it is around the edges, expect wet weather. If you think about it, there is a logic here but don’t ask me how the frog predicts the weather. I look forward to hearing of any frogspawn sightings, including the date as well as where it is located!

April is the month when the smaller nesting birds are in full swing. But its the larger birds which also catch the attention. great-spotted woodpeckers will still be asserting their authority by drumming their favourite decaying tree whilst their relative the green woodpecker will help aerate your lawn in search of ants. The cuckoo should be heard from towards the end of the month heralding the arrival of Spring. Red kites, which have been introduced to the Chilterns, are thriving, and on a recent journey through Watlington and Christmas Common I spotted five at close range. I have seen them a couple of times this year circling overhead in these parts and now that their numbers are growing the increased competition should encourage more to head in our direction. Look out for very large birds soaring with ease. They can be distinguished from buzzards by their larger size, deeply forked long tail, reddy-brown plumage and white patches under the wings. Let me know if you sight any.

On warm sunny days in March and April brimstone butterflies emerge from hibernation and should provide an indication that average ground temperatures are on the increase and the growing season has started in earnest. So get those ‘second earlies’ (potatoes) in quick.

Badgers become more active this month. Cubs will be born around now so look out for food gathering activity or listen out for their characteristic grunting at dusk, especially on warmer evenings.